Most people say they read fiction for pleasure – but that doesn’t explain the immense popularity of the horror, thriller, and suspense genres. Is it pleasurable to face our fears from the safety of a comfortable armchair? You decide.
But what about the authors who delve into the world of their nightmares in order to bring their readers tales that will prickle the hairs on the backs of their necks? What type of person confronts their personal darkness and then invents a story around it?
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
One such author who has always fascinated me is Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. Mary Shelley lived in a time when women were not encouraged to study, let alone write books of their own. So to be the author of what would become one of the most well known horror novels of all time, is a remarkable and unusual achievement. To do so at the age of nineteen is amazing.
The story of how Mary came up with the idea for Frankenstein is just as interesting as its author. Mary had dealt with death intensely, and often, during her young life. Her own mother died when she was only a few days old, her half-sister and her lover's wife both committed suicide, and she’d already lost three babies by the time she came to write Frankenstein. It seems death was a theme that Mary mulled over, even though she may have been a normal, and happy, young woman in many other ways.
During a holiday, Mary, her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, and their friend Lord Byron, were reading aloud from a book of horror stories. They all decided to write their own horror stories for fun, but Mary was unable to come up with anything that satisfied her and put it off.
After the coaxing and teasing of her friends, and through a number of discussions of scientific theories of the period, Mary had a daydream one day that turned all her thoughts on the meaning of life, death, birth, and creation into a story about a man who creates a monstrous living being out of a corpse. Frankenstein was published in 1818.
Robert Louis Stevenson
Stevenson had an idea for a story about a good man with an evil alter ego, but struggled for days to come up with a workable plot. One night he dreamt two of the scenes that he would go on to develop into The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Misery is one of my favourite Stephen King books because of its simplicity – I don’t know many authors who can pull off a story consisting of two characters in one room.
Misery is a novel based on a fear that most celebrities would understand: what happens if you get stuck somewhere with an obsessed fan? King dreamt a semblance of the story when he fell asleep during a plane trip, but changed a great deal of it between the initial idea and the final publication.
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (Or the Modern Prometheus) is available from Amazon.com
Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is available from Amazon.com